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Republicans will retake control of the Virginia House of Delegates with a two-seat advantage.

Election 2021 Recap: A Republican Comeback in Virginia

By Ben Williams | Nov. 3, 2021 | State Legislatures News | Print

The big news from yesterday’s elections: Republicans did well—very well. After failing to win a single statewide race for over a decade, Virginia Republicans swept all three statewide offices—governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. And in New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy, who is seeking a second term as governor, has a small lead over Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli. With over 2 million votes cast and several hundred thousand ballots still to be tabulated, the race remains uncalled by The Associated Press.

The Republican advance didn’t stop at the top of the tickets. It appears that Democrats’ majority in the Virginia House of Delegates has evaporated, too. If all candidates currently leading ultimately win their races, Republicans will retake control of the chamber they lost in 2019 by two seats—one more than they held in the chamber prior to that election. If through late-arriving ballots or a recount Democrats are able to hold on to two seats where they currently trail, the General Assembly would have a 50-50 tie, the commonwealth’s first since 1997. Because Virginia lacks a tie-breaking mechanism for deciding chamber control (unlike for individual races), this likely would lead to a power-sharing agreement between the parties. The Democratic-controlled Virginia Senate wasn’t up for election this year.

New Jersey Democrats controlled both chambers of the Legislature going into the election, with a 52-28 advantage in the Assembly and a 25-14 advantage in the Senate. While numbers are still preliminary, it appears Democrats have maintained their majorities—though they have shrunk. If all current leads hold, Democrats will have advantages of 44-36 in the House and 23-17 in the Senate.

With the Virginia House flipping to the GOP (or ending up in a tie), the number of legislatures with split control has doubled—from one to two! Other than Virginia’s, only Minnesota’s Legislature was split, with Dems controlling the House and Republicans controlling the Senate. One, and even two, splits is historically low.

Overall, the number of 2021 legislative elections this year was tiny compared with those in even years. Just 220 of the nation’s 7,383 legislative seats were on the ballot yesterday—less than 3% of the nation’s legislators. Going into Election Day, 30 state legislatures were controlled by Republicans, 18 by Democrats, with Minnesota’s being divided and Nebraska’s nominally nonpartisan. With the Virginia House tied, those numbers shift to 30 Republican, 17 Democratic and two split. The only change in overall state control (if New Jersey’s Phil Murphy ultimately wins reelection) is Democrats losing their trifecta in Virginia. That leaves the state control count at 23 states fully controlled by Republicans, 14 states fully controlled by Democrats and 13 with divided state control.

Ben Williams is a principal in NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.

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